Hello readers,


Is the WALL-E-esque world depicted in the Pixar movie creeping up upon us?
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A futuristic scene from the Pixar movie Wall-E

In the future world of WALL-E, “humanity has become completely reliant on technology. Humans literally spend their lives lying on moving chairs, rendering them obese and unable to walk. Even in their way of life, they seem not to enjoy living; they are completely apathetic. They eat through straws, have no physical contact with each other, and can only talk to one another through a holo-screen. In the future, consumerism and technology turned humans into pieces of meat living life lying in front of a screen. … The humans have no intellectual curiosity or monotony.” – Wall-E (Pixar Animation)

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Above:  NHK reported (Oct 16) internet addiction to be on the rise in Japan. A panel of experts in Japan says more than 4.2 million people in the country are addicted to the internet.

Meanwhile, Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the steadily declining physical ability of today’s young…ten-year-old boys 50 years ago could throw a softball six meters farther than boys of that age today, the sports ministry’s annual survey on physical strength and athletic ability revealed (see article excerpts below):

image (School children playing dodgeball, photo: Yomiurii Shimbun)

Boys’ ball-throwing ability declines 6 meters in 50 years (Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct 15

Ten-year-old boys 50 years ago could throw a softball six meters farther than boys of that age today, the sports ministry’s annual survey on physical strength and athletic ability revealed.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry released the results of its 2013 annual survey on Sunday, ahead of Health-Sports Day on Monday. Physical characteristics such as height tended to improve over the past 50 years, and the results for the side-step exercise also improved. However, boys’ throwing ability dropped noticeably compared to other surveyed movements.

Starting with the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, the survey marked its 50th anniversary this year. In the overall analysis, the physical and athletic ability of those surveyed in the range of children to adults improved until about 1985, and then there was a downward trend until 1998. The records for primary and middle school students have been recovering comprehensively since then, but remain lower than the 1985 level….

In this year’s report, the ministry compared the 10-year-olds’ average records at intervals of about 25 years — 1964, 1989 and 2013 — for the movements that have been surveyed from the outset. In grip strength, the boys and girls of 1989 were best.

The 1989 cohort was also best in the 50-meter-run, with times of 9.20 seconds for boys and 9.41 seconds for girls. However, the differences between those of 1964 and 2013 were less than 0.2 seconds.

In the results of the 20-second-side step, a movement to check instanta-neous power, the numbers for the 2013’s cohorts were the best, with 42.97 times for boys and 40.69 times for girls. The numbers for 1964’s boys and girls were the lowest.

The results of boys’ ball throwing have been gradually declining, from 30.38 meters in 1964 to 28.37 meters in 1989, and 24.45 meters in 2013.

The throwing ability of 10-year-old girls is about 50 percent to 60 percent of boys’ ability, even though girls were taller than boys at that age for all three generations.

According to an expert, the results for ball throwing depend greatly on factors such as experience and technique in addition to arm strength. The loss of playgrounds in modern life is behind such declines, as they had offered the opportunity to play catch and other games involving throwing movements, the expert analysis concludes.

Fewer chances for outdoor play

Decreased opportunities for children to play outside and a lack of such experience due to the declining numbers of playgrounds for exercise seem to be contributing to the lower level of children’s athletic ability.

On Oct. 8, students of Yamanashi Gakuin University taught children how to play outside during a break at Nanaho Primary School in Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture. Children played a game combining rock-paper-scissors with tag, and also a version of dodgeball with slightly complicated rules. The children were running and screaming, and when play time finished after 30 minutes, they said they wanted to play more.

A sixth-grade boy, 12, said, “Usually I stay in the library or do work for the student council during break time, but physical exercise makes me feel good.”

The activity was started last academic year as part of the education ministry’s project to support schools’ efforts to improve children’s physical strength, in cooperation with parental guardians and local residents. As the primary school is comprised of three schools that were integrated in 2009, more than half the students use the school bus. Friends’ houses are far from each other, making it difficult to play in groups after school. The school’s vice principal, 58, said: “As children use cars and play video games at home in their daily lives, their opportunities to play outside are declining. In particular, they have problems with throwing balls and their sense of balance.”

Mitsuru Senda, chairman of the Association for Children’s Environment, has been conducting a survey of children mainly in Yokohama on his own for a long time, which shows how outdoor spaces where children around the age of 10 can play have significantly decreased over the past 60 years. “Though opportunities to play outside have declined due to the decreased number of playgrounds and the spread of video games, playing outside with friends can naturally develop [one’s] social nature, and physical strength and ability.”

According to Prof. Kazuhiko Nakamura of the University of Yamanashi, who specializes in human growth and development, presently both boys and girls at primary schools spend less than one hour a day playing outside, about half of what was typical 30 years ago.

Mature scores improve

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry conducts a national annual survey on physical strength and capabilities of the people. “We consider our survey, conducted over half a century and covering such a wide range of ages, to be rare in the world,” a ministry official said.

Currently, eight events for primary school students aged 6-11, nine events for middle school and older students aged 12-19, and seven events each for those in the 20-64 and 65-79 age groups, are conducted for the survey.

The fiscal 2013 survey was conducted from May through October last year and results were collected for 63,783 people.

A major trend of the results collected for 50 years is a constant increase in both physical strength and capabilities of all generations until around 1985, as well as a constant decline of both strength and abilities from then until around 1998.

In 1998, some survey activities changed, and “sit-ups” and “standing long jumps” were added. Since then, the physical strength of primary, middle and high school students has moderately increased. However, standard levels of their abilities, except for the 50-meter dash by male middle school students, have remained low compared to the peak standards around 1985.

The physical strength and capability of women in their 20s to 40s has shown a declining trend since 1998, while men in their 30s and 40s have shown the same level or decreasing tendencies. …

Read more here

New daycare centers held up by residents opposing noisy kids (Japan Today, Oct. 13, 2014)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to help women juggle work and family are hitting a roadblock: opposition to building new daycare centers from residents who fear noise from children playing will spoil their quiet neighborhoods.

The number of Japanese children is falling due to a low birthrate but many pre-schoolers are nonetheless on daycare waiting lists because of a shortage of facilities. Abe has vowed to fix the problem as part of plans to get more women working to offset a shrinking, aging population and boost economic growth.

Doing so, however, may not be easy given that locals often greet plans for new daycare centers with Japan’s version of the phenomenon known as NIMBY – “not in my backyard” – frequently associated with facilities such as military bases or prisons.

Take Setagaya ward in western Tokyo, which has the longest daycare waiting list in Japan, with over 1,000 kids.

“We are trapped between parents who are crying out ‘we want daycare centers built as soon as possible’ and those who say ‘we don’t need daycare centres in our quiet neighborhoods,” wrote Setagaya Mayor Nobuto Hosaka in a recent blog entitled “Are Children’s Voices Noise, or the Sound of Hope?”

Setagaya ward needs to build between 70 and 80 new daycare centers over the next four years to accommodate an estimated 6,500 additional children who will need daycare, said Kota Tanaka, head of a 15-person team set up to speed up the process.

But complaints from noise-allergic residents are an obstacle. “They say children’s voices are too loud and are wrecking their quiet neighborhoods,” Tanaka told Reuters.

Some residents elsewhere in Japan have filed suits seeking compensation for “noise pollution” from nearby daycare centers, prompting Hosaka, a former MP, to suggest Japan learn from Germany and change laws to prevent such lawsuits.

“The number of children is declining so people think daycare centres have nothing to do with them and see them as something that could cause unpleasantness in their lives,” Kansai University Professor Fumiharu Yamagata told NHK public TV.

The noisy children problem could, however, resolve itself if steps to boost the birth rate fail. A government think tanks forecasts just seven percent of Japan’s population will be under age 15 in 2060 in a worst-case scenario that sees the total population shrinking more than a third to below 80 million

Japan’s Divided Education Strategy (OCT. 12, 2014 NY Times)

Japan’s conservatives returned to power last year with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at their head.

TOKYO — Japan’s simultaneous embrace of nationalism and cosmopolitanism is generating ambiguous signals from its education policy makers. They are rewriting textbooks along what they call “patriotic” lines, alienating their Asian neighbors in the process. But at the same time, they are promoting Japanese universities as globalized and open, in a bid to compete internationally.

“There is an obvious contradiction between Japan’s rightward shift on education policy and its strivings to internationalize,” said Thomas Berger, a professor at Boston University and an expert on Japanese politics.

“Japanese textbook policy is increasing tensions with Asia, undermining the willingness of Japanese to study in neighboring countries and of foreigners to come to Japan,” Prof. Berger said. “Education policy is caught on the horns of a dilemma: On the one hand, there are powerful economic and political pressures that favor internationalization — yet, in reality, Japan has been moving in the opposite direction.”

Following a rare term out of office, Japan’s conservatives returned to power last year with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at their head and an agenda to recast wartime history with a less apologetic tone. A more critical version of history, which casts Japan as an aggressor in World War II, has been replaced by material that is more “patriotic.”

Critics say the new government is trying to impose a rightist agenda on the nation’s schooling system. They point out, for example, that new state-sanctioned text books play down the death toll of the Nanjing massacre in China, which is now referred to as an “incident.”

There has been some resistance to the changes, but by and large, education boards across Japan are accepting them. One of the first boards to adopt the new textbooks was that of Yokohama, the country’s second-largest city.

At the same time, a formidable drive is underway by the same conservatives to globalize Japan’s inward-looking education system. Mr. Abe has stated that he wants 10 Japanese institutions to rank among the world’s top 100 universities. Currently only two make the cut in prominent lists like that of Times Higher Education: the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University.

The government’s plans include strengthening teaching staffs at universities by hiring foreign professors, initiating a certified evaluation system and expanding resources.

There is also a move to improve bilateral relations with the very countries that the new textbooks have irked — the United States, China and South Korea.

Japan’s Asian neighbors fear that its new emphasis on patriotism will lead to nationalism and a teaching of history that obfuscates wartime atrocities. They also accuse Mr. Abe of reviving past militarism. Tokyo is “attempting to deny and even beautify” the country’s history of military aggression, a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry said this year.

China and Japan — which are also facing off over territorial claims — both say that biased history textbooks and education are among the causes of a deep-grained hostility that threatens more than 50 years of peace between them.

Even allies like the United States are dismayed at the new textbooks, said Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point, an independent research center in Washington.

“Disappointment stems from the realization that Japan’s leaders hold a retrograde, discredited and offensive view of not just history, but also of race, women, war, peace and reconciliation,” she said. “Simply put, the issue is whether or not Japanese decision makers are capable of sound judgment.”

But the government says Japan has done enough to satisfy its neighbors’ sensitivities over Japanese aggression during the war years.

The education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, denies that the government wants to enforce a particular view of history. He says Japan’s textbook examination is undertaken fairly and impartially, “based on expert and academic deliberations.” But he concedes he is looking for a more patriotic take on Japan.

“History has positive and negative aspects,” Mr. Shimomura said in an email. “We believe it is important to teach a balance of the good as well as the bad parts so that children can be proud of and have confidence in our country’s history.

New tests aim to help more pass bar (Oct 13, The Yomiuri Shimbun)
With the passing rate for the bar examination hovering at a low, the education ministry plans to have all graduate law schools in Japan carry out a common achievement test to determine if students are fit to advance to the next year, according to ministry officials.

In particular, this common test would be designed to enhance the academic level of students who are attending the three-year graduate program but did not major in law as undergraduates. The bar exam passing rate for these students has been lower than those with undergraduate law experience.

Several law schools are expected to participate in the common test on an experimental basis during the current academic year. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry hopes that the test will be introduced by all law schools within a few years.

Tentatively called the “common test to confirm achievement,” the test will gauge if students have basic knowledge and legal minds. Questions will be created by instructors at law schools.

The results of the test will also be used by students to identify their academic challenges. Students with substantially low scores may be asked to seek different career paths.

In February or March next year, several law schools will give a test on three subjects — the Constitution, Civil Code and Penal Code — to first-year students in the three-year program, according to ministry officials.

In the next academic year and beyond, the test will be expanded to the first-year students who are enrolled in the two-year program for those who majored in law as undergraduates, as well as second-year students in the three-year program. The ministry plans to ask law schools to add questions on the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Procedure Code, among other subjects.

Although law schools are supposed to play a core role in training students to be legal professionals and nurture diverse human resources through thorough instruction, the bar exam passing rate for law school graduates has dropped to as low as 21 percent this year.

The passing rate for those who have completed the three-year program was 12 percent, considerably lower than 33 percent for those who completed the two-year course.

“The common test will serve as an indicator to determine which academic level each student in the three-year course has in the nation,” said Prof. Kazuhiko Yamamoto of Hitotsubashi University’s School of Law. “The test results can be utilized by instructors to change the educational contents, which in turn will improve the passing rate for students without undergraduate law coursework.”

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Waseda International School’s rapid metamorphosis

Waseda International School, in only its third year since its establishment, is experiencing a rapid metamorphosis from a school starting out with a few students and a vague curriculum and direction, to a learning institution with a student population nearing 100, defined curriculums, and a clear and certain path to educating children without borders.

The school’s core reading program is predominately a balanced literacy approach supplemented by Houghton Mifflin’s Journey reading/language arts program, which is aligned with American Common Core Standards. Waseda aims to use an eclectic approach to teaching reading and writing. The school’s instructional approach is to understand each child’s learning style and academic and developmental needs, and then devise an individualized plan to systematically and strategically set goals that are achievable by that child within a reasonable time frame.

Waseda’s student population is currently spread over two locations; both the kindergarten and elementary annexes are less than a 10-minute walk from Takadanobaba Station in Shinjuku-ku. The newly acquired elementary annex has six classrooms prepared to teach science, art, library/computers, music, and Japanese. The Japanese program is unique in that it’s taught every single day at grade level. In addition, Waseda offers swimming and physical education during school hours and an assortment of after-school clubs.

Read more at Japan School News here: Waseda International School’s rapid metamorphosis

Beyond Japan, news links that might interest our readers include:

Cats, take notice: brain study uses trivia to look at how curiosity works – shows how curiosity fosters better learning.(Washington Post, Oct 5)

TTFN, digitally yours,

Aileen Kawagoe